The narrative mode (also known as the mode of narration) is the set of methods the author of a literary, theatrical, cinematic, or musical story uses to convey the plot to the audience. Narration, the process of presenting the narrative, occurs because of the narrative mode. It encompasses several overlapping areas, most importantly narrative point-of-view, which determines through whose perspective the story is viewed and narrative voice, which determines a set of consistent features regarding the way through which the story is communicated to the audience.
The narrator may be a fictive person devised by the author as a stand-alone entity, or may even be a character. The narrator is considered participant if an actual character in the story, and nonparticipant if only an implied character, or a sort of omniscient or semi-omniscient being who does not take part in the story but only relates it to the audience.
The "Narrator" could also be more than one person because some stories are from more than one point of view, showing different story lines of people at the same, similar or different times. It is used in film and books to illustrate the story from different points in time and is sometimes more effective than a singular point of view because it gives a better effect for a more complex story line.
Narrative point of view 
Narrative point of view in the creative writing of fiction describes the narrator's position in relation to the story being told.
First-person view 
In a first-person narrative the story is relayed by a narrator who is also a character within the story, so that the narrator reveals the plot by referring to this viewpoint character as "I" (or, when plural, "we"). Often, the first-person narrative is used as a way to directly convey the deeply internal, otherwise unspoken thoughts of the narrator. Frequently, the narrator's story revolves around him-/herself as the protagonist and allows this protagonist/narrator character's inner thoughts to be conveyed openly to the audience, even if not to any of the other characters. It also allows that character to be further developed through his/her own style in telling the story. First-person narrations may be told like third-person (or omnisicent ) ones, in the guise of a person experiencing the events in the story without being aware of conveying that experience to an audience; on the other hand, the narrator may be conscious of telling the story to a given audience, perhaps at a given place and time, for a given reason. In extreme cases, the first-person narration may be told as a story within a story, with the narrator appearing as a character in the story. The first-person narrator also may or may not be the focal character.
The first-person narrator is always a character within his/her own story (whether the protagonist or not). This viewpoint character takes actions, makes judgments and expresses opinions, thereby not always allowing the audience to be able to comprehend some of the other characters' thoughts, feelings, or perceptions as much as the narrator's own. We become aware of the events and characters of story through the narrator's views and knowledge.
In some cases, the narrator gives and withholds information based on his/her own viewing of events. It is an important task for the reader to determine as much as possible about the character of the narrator in order to decide what "really" happens. Example:
- "I could picture it. I have a habit of imagining the conversations between my friends. We went out to the Cafe Napolitain to have an aperitif and watch the evening crowd on the Boulevard." from The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. The narrator is protagonist Jake Barnes.
In very rare cases, stories are told in first person plural, that is, using "we" rather than "I". Examples are the short stories Twenty-Six Men and a Girl by Maxim Gorky and A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner, and the The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, During the Reign of the Queen of Persia by Joan Chase, Our Kind by Kate Walbert, I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, and Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris.
The narrator can be the protagonist (e.g., Gulliver in Gulliver's Travels), someone very close to him who is privy to his thoughts and actions (Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes), or an ancillary character who has little to do with the action of the story (such as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby). Narrators can report others' narratives at one or more removes. These are called 'frame narrators': examples are Mr. Lockwood, the narrator in Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, and the unnamed narrator in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.
In autobiographical fiction, the first person narrator is the character of the author (with varying degrees of accuracy). The narrator is still distinct from the author and must behave like any other character and any other first person narrator. Examples of this kind of narrator include Jim Carroll in The Basketball Diaries and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. in Timequake (in this case, the first-person narrator is also the author). In some cases, the narrator is writing a book — "the book in your hands" — and therefore it has most of the powers and knowledge of the author. Examples include The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.
A rare form of first person is the first person omniscient, in which the narrator is a character in the story, but also knows the thoughts and feelings of all the other characters. It can seem like third person omniscient at times. Two notable examples are The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, where the narrator is Death, and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, where a young girl, having been killed, observes, from some after-life vantage point, her family struggling to cope with her disappearance. Typically, however, the narrator restricts the events relayed in the narrative to those that it could reasonably have knowledge of.
Second-person view 
The rarest mode in literature (though quite common in song lyrics) is the second-person narrative mode, in which the narrator refers to the reader as "you", therefore making the audience member feel as if he or she is a character within the story. Examples of this are the "Choose Your Own Adventure" and "Fighting Fantasy" series of books which were popular in the 1980s. Another common place to see this is in preschool television shows in which characters will tell the audience to follow them, or ask the audience questions. Second-person narrative mode is often paired with the first-person narrative mode in which the narrator makes emotional comparisons between the thoughts, actions, and feelings of "you" versus "I". Often the narrator is also a character in his or her story, in which case it would technically still be employing the first-person narrative mode; an example of this form is A Song of Stone by Iain Banks.
In letters and greeting cards, the second-person narrative mode is most often used in a non-fictional atmosphere.
Perhaps the most prominent example of this mode in contemporary literature is Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City. In this novel, the second-person point of view is intended to create an intense sense of intimacy between the narrator and the reader, causing the reader to feel implicit in and powerless against a plot that leads him, blindly, through his (the reader’s and the narrator’s) own destruction and redemption:
- "You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head. The club is either Heartbreak or the Lizard Lounge. All might become clear if you could just slip into the bathroom and do a little more Bolivian Marching Powder. Then again, it might not. A small voice inside you insists that this epidemic lack of clarity is a result of too much of that already."
Third-person view 
Third-person narration provides the greatest flexibility to the author and thus is the most commonly used narrative mode in literature. In the third-person narrative mode, each and every character is referred to by the narrator as "he", "she", "it", or "they", but never as "I" or "we" (first-person), or "you" (second-person). In third-person narrative, it is obvious that the narrator is merely an unspecified entity or uninvolved person that conveys the story and is not a character of any kind within the story being told. Third-person singular (he/she) is overwhelmingly the most common type of third-person narrative, but there have been successful uses of the third-person plural (they). Even more common, however, is to see singular and plural used together in one story, at different times, depending upon the number of people being referred to at a given moment in the plot.
If the narrator of the story is not present, or is present but is not the protagonist, and the story told is about someone else and is not the narrator's own story, the story is narrated by He/She perspective.
The third-person modes are usually categorized along two axes. The first is the subjectivity/objectivity axis, with "subjective" narration describing one or more character's feelings and thoughts, and "objective" narration not describing the feelings or thoughts of any characters. The second axis is the omniscient/limited axis, a distinction that refers to the knowledge available to the narrator. An omniscient narrator has knowledge of all times, people, places, and events, including all characters' thoughts; a limited narrator, in contrast, may know absolutely everything about a single character and every piece of knowledge in that character's mind, but the narrator's knowledge is "limited" to that character — that is, the narrator cannot describe things unknown to the focal character.
Alternating person view 
While the general rule is for novels to adopt a single approach to point of view throughout, there are exceptions. Many stories, especially in literature, alternate between the first and third person. In this case, an author will move back and forth between a more omniscient third-person narrator to a more personal first-person narrator. The Harry Potter series is told in third person limited for much of the seven novels, but deviates to omniscient in that it switches the limited view to other characters from time to time, rather than only the protagonist. However, like the A Song of Ice and Fire series, a switch of viewpoint is done only at chapter boundaries, in The Heroes of Olympus series the point of view will change between characters at intervals. Omniscient point of view is also referred to as alternating point of view, because the story sometimes alternates between characters. Often, a narrator using the first person will try to be more objective by also employing the third person for important action scenes, especially those in which he/she is not directly involved or in scenes where he/she is not present to have viewed the events in first person. This mode is found in the novel The Poisonwood Bible.
Epistolary novels, which were very common in the early years of the novel, generally consist of a series of letters written by different characters, and necessarily switching when the writer changes; the classic books Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Dracula by Abraham "Bram" Stoker and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde take this approach. Sometimes, though, they may all be letters from one character, such as C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters and Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary. Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island switches between third and first person, as do Charles Dickens's Bleak House and Vladimir Nabokov's The Gift. Many of William Faulkner's take a series of first-person points of view. E.L. Konigsburg's novella The View from Saturday uses flashbacks to alternate between third person and first person throughout the book; as does Edith Wharton's novel Ethan Frome. After the First Death, by Robert Cormier, a novel about a fictional school bus hijacking in the late 1970s, also switches from first to third person narrative using different characters. The novel The Death of Artemio Cruz, by Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes, switches between the three persons from one chapter to the next, even though all refer to the same protagonist. The novel Dreaming in Cuban, by Cristina García, alternates between third person limited and first person depending on the generation of the speaker; the grandchildren recount events in first person while the parents and grandparent are shown in third person limited.
Narrative voice 
The narrative voice describes how the story is conveyed (for example, by "viewing" a character's thought processes, by reading a letter written for someone, by a retelling of a character's experiences, etc.).
Stream-of-consciousness voice 
A stream of consciousness gives the (almost always first-person) narrator's perspective by attempting to replicate the thought processes (as opposed to simply the actions and spoken words) of the narrative character. Often, interior monologues and inner desires or motivations, as well as pieces of incomplete thoughts, are expressed to the audience (but not necessarily to other characters). Examples include the multiple narrators' feelings in William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, the character Offred's often fragmented thoughts in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, and the development of the narrator's nightmarish experience in Queen's hit song, Bohemian Rhapsody. The creation of this mode of writing is often attributed to Irish writer James Joyce by virtue of his great novel ULYSSES
Character voice 
One of the most common narrative voices, used especially with first- and third-person viewpoints is the character voice in which an actual conscious "person" (in most cases, a living human being) is presented as the narrator. In this situation, the narrator is no longer an unspecified entity, but rather, a more relatable, realistic human character who may or may not be involved in the actions of his or her story and who may or may not take a biased approach in the storytelling. If he or she is directly involved in the plot, this narrator is also called the viewpoint character. The viewpoint character is not necessarily the focal character: examples of supporting viewpoint characters include Doctor Watson, Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Great Gatsby's Nick Carraway.
Unreliable voice 
Under the character voice is the unreliable narrative voice which involves the use of a non-credible or untrustworthy narrator. This mode may be employed to give the audience a deliberate sense of disbelief in the story or a level of suspicion or mystery as to what information is meant to be true and what is false. This unreliability is often developed by the author to demonstrate that the narrator is psychologically unstable. The narrator of Poe's Tell-Tale Heart, for example, has an enormous bias, is unknowledgeable, ignorant or childish, or is perhaps purposefully trying to deceive the audience. Unreliable narrators are usually first-person narrators. However, when a third-person narrator is considered unreliable for any reason, his or her viewpoint may be termed "third-person, subjective."
Examples include Nelly Dean in Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, "Chief" Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey, Holden Caulfield in the novel The Catcher In The Rye, Dr. James Sheppard in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, Stark in Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith, and both John Shade and Charles Kinbote in the novel Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov.
A naive narrator is one who is so ignorant and inexperienced that he/she actually exposes the faults and issues of his/her world. It is used particularly in satire, in situations where the user can draw more inferences about the narrator's environment than the narrator. Child narrators can also fall under this category.
Epistolary voice 
The epistolary narrative voice uses a (usually fictional) series of letters and other documents to convey the plot of the story. Although epistolary works can be considered multiple-person narratives, they also can be classified separately, as they arguably have no narrator at all—just an author who has gathered the documents together in one place. One famous example is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein which is a story written in a sequence of letters. Another is Bram Stoker's Dracula, which tells the story in a series of diary entries, letters and newspaper clippings. Les Liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos is again made up of the correspondence between the main characters, most notably the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont. Langston Hughes does the same thing in a shorter form in his story "Passing," which consists of a young man's letter to his mother.
Third-person voices 
The third-person narrative voices are narrative-voice techniques employed solely under the category of the third-person view.
Third-person, subjective 
The third-person subjective is when the narrator conveys the thoughts, feelings, opinions, etc. of one or more characters. If it is just one character, it can be termed third-person limited, in which the reader is "limited" to the thoughts of some particular character (often the protagonist) as in the first-person mode, except still giving personal descriptions using "he", "she", "it", and "they", but not "I." This is almost always the main character—e.g., Gabriel in Joyce's The Dead, Nathaniel Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown, or the elderly fisherman in Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. Certain third-person omniscient modes are also classifiable as "third person, subjective" modes that switch between the thoughts, feelings, etc. of all the characters.
This style, in both its limited and omniscient variants, became the most popular narrative perspective during the 20th century. In contrast to the broad, sweeping perspectives seen in many 19th-century novels, third-person subjective is sometimes called the "over the shoulder" perspective; the narrator only describes events perceived and information known by a character. At its narrowest and most subjective scope, the story reads as though the viewpoint character were narrating it; dramatically this is very similar to the first person, in that it allows in-depth revelation of the protagonist's personality, but it uses third-person grammar. Some writers will shift perspective from one viewpoint character to another.
The focal character, protagonist, antagonist, or some other character's thoughts are revealed through the narrator. The reader learns the events of the narrative through the perceptions of the chosen character.
Third-person, objective 
The third-person objective employs a narrator who tells a story without describing any character's thoughts, opinions, or feelings; instead it gives an objective, unbiased point of view. Often the narrator is self-dehumanized in order to make the narrative more neutral; this type of narrative mode, outside of fiction, is often employed by newspaper articles, biographical documents, and scientific journals. This point of view can be described as a "fly on the wall" or "camera lens" approach that can only record the observable actions, but does not interpret these actions or relay what thoughts are going through the minds of the characters. Works of fiction that use this style put a great deal of emphasis on characters acting out their feelings in an observable way. Internal thoughts, if expressed, are given voice through an aside or soliloquy. While this approach does not allow the author to reveal the unexpressed thoughts and feelings of the characters, it does allow the author to reveal information that not all or any of the characters may be aware of. A typical example of this so-called camera-eye perspective is e.g. Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway.
The third-person objective is preferred in most pieces that are deliberately trying to take a neutral or unbiased view, like in many newspaper articles. It is also called the third-person dramatic, because the narrator (like the audience of a drama) is neutral and ineffective toward the progression of the plot — merely an uninvolved onlooker. It was also used around the mid-20th century by French novelists writing in the nouveau roman tradition.
Third-person, omniscient 
Historically, the third-person omniscient perspective has been the most commonly used; it is seen in countless classic novels, including works by Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, and George Eliot. A story in this narrative mode is presented by a narrator with an overarching point of view, seeing and knowing everything that happens within the world of the story, including what each of the characters is thinking and feeling. It sometimes even takes a subjective approach. One advantage of omniscience is that this mode enhances the sense of objective reliability (i.e. truthfulness) of the plot. The third-person omniscient narrator is the least capable of being unreliable—although the omniscient narrator can have its own personality, offering judgments and opinions on the behavior of the characters.
In addition to reinforcing the sense of the narrator as reliable (and thus of the story as true), the main advantage of this mode is that it is eminently suited to telling huge, sweeping, epic stories, and/or complicated stories involving numerous characters. The disadvantage of this mode is that it can create more distance between the audience and the story, and that—when used in conjunction with a sweeping, epic "cast of thousands" story—characterization is more limited, which can reduce the reader's identification with or attachment to the characters. A classic example of both the advantages and disadvantages of this mode is J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.
Some writers and literary critics, make the distinction between the third-person omniscient and the universal omniscient, the difference being that in universal omniscient, the narrator reveals information that the characters do not have. This is also called "Little Did He Know" writing, as in, "Little did he know he'd be dead by morning." Usually, the universal omniscient enforces the idea of the narrator being unconnected to the events of the story.
Narrative time 
The narrative tense or narrative time determines the grammatical tense of the story; whether in the past, present, or future.
Past tense 
The most common in literature and story-telling in the English, Chinese, Italian, and Portuguese languages; the events of the plot are depicted as occurring sometime before the current moment or the time at which the narrative was constructed or expressed to an audience. (e.g. "They drove happily. They had found their way and were preparing to celebrate.")
Present tense 
The events of the plot are depicted as occurring now—at the current moment—in real-time. (e.g. "They drive happily. They have found their way and are now preparing to celebrate.") In English this tense, known as the "historical present", is more common in spontaneous conversational narratives than in written literature. A recent example of this is the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.
Future tense 
Extremely rare in literature; the events of the plot are depicted as occurring soon or eventually; often, these upcoming events are described in a way that makes it seem like the narrators uncannily know (or believe they know) the future. Some future-tense stories have a prophetic feel. (e.g. "They will drive happily. They will find their way and will prepare to celebrate.")
Other narrative modes 
Fiction-writing mode 
Narration has more than one meaning. In its broadest sense, narration encompasses all forms of story-telling, fictional or not; personal anecdotes, "true crime," and historical narratives all fit here, along with many other "non-fiction" forms. More narrowly, however, "narration" refers to all written fiction. Finally, in its most restricted sense, narration is the fiction-writing mode whereby the narrator communicates directly to the reader.
Along with exposition, argumentation, and description, narration (broadly defined) is one of four rhetorical modes of discourse. In the context of rhetorical modes, the purpose of narration is to tell a story or to narrate an event or series of events. Narrative may exist in a variety of forms: biographies, anecdotes, short stories, novels. In this context, all written fiction may be viewed as narration.
Narrowly defined, narration is the fiction-writing mode whereby the narrator is communicating directly to the reader. But if the broad definition of narration includes all written fiction, and the narrow definition is limited merely to that which is directly communicated to the reader, then what comprises the rest of written fiction? The remainder of written fiction would be in the form of any of the other fiction-writing modes. Narration, as a fiction-writing mode, is a matter for discussion among fiction writers and writing coaches.
Ability to use the different points of view is one measure of a person's writing skill. The writing mark schemes used for National Curriculum assessments in England reflect this: they encourage the awarding of marks for the use of viewpoint as part of a wider judgment.
Other types and uses 
In literature, person is used to describe the viewpoint from which the narrative is presented. Although second-person perspectives are occasionally used, the most commonly encountered are first and third person. Third person omniscient specifies a viewpoint in which readers are provided with information not available to characters within the story; without this qualifier, readers may or may not have such information.
In movies and video games first- and third-person describe camera viewpoints. The first-person is from a character's own perspective, and the third-person is the more familiar, "general" camera showing a scene. A so-called second-person may also be used to show a main character from a secondary character's perspective.
For example, in a horror film, the first-person perspective of an antagonist could become a second-person perspective on a potential victim's actions. A third-person shot of the two characters could be used to show the narrowing distance between them.
In video games, a first-person perspective is used most often in the first-person shooter genre, such as in Doom, or in simulations (racing games, flight simulation games, and such). Third-person perspectives on characters are typically used in all other games. Since the arrival of 3D computer graphics in games it is often possible for the player to switch between first- and third-person perspectives at will; this is usually done to improve spatial awareness, but can also improve the accuracy of weapons use in generally third-person games such as the Metal Gear Solid franchise.
Text-based interactive fiction conventionally has descriptions written in the second person (though exceptions exist), telling the character what he is seeing and doing, such as Zork. This practice is also encountered occasionally in text-based segments of graphical games.
Further reading 
- Rasley, Alicia. The Power Of Point Of View: Make Your Story Come To Life. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books 2008.
- Card, Orson Scott. Characters and Viewpoint. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books 1988. Add
- Fludernik, Monika. Towards a "Natural" Narratology. London: Routledge 1996.
- Genette, Gérard. Narrative Discourse. An Essay in Method. Transl. by Jane Lewin. Oxford: Blackwell 1980 (Translation of Discours du récit).
- Stanzel, Franz Karl. A theory of Narrative. Transl. by Charlotte Goedsche. Cambridge: CUP 1984 (Transl. of Theorie des Erzählens).
- Ranjbar Vahid. (2011) The Narrator, Iran:Baqney
- James McCracken, ed. (2011). The Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. Retrieved October 16, 2011.
- Ranjbar Vahid. The Narrator, Iran:Baqney. 2011
- Miller, Laura (April 18, 2004). "We the Characters". nytimes.com. Retrieved 2007-02-25.
- Ranjbar Vahid. The Narrator, Iran:Baqney 2011
- Jill Walker Rettberg. "trusting kids with unreliable narrators".
- Herman, David; Jahn, Manfred; Ryan, Marie-Laure (2005), Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory, Taylor & Francis, p. 442, ISBN 978-0-415-28259-8
Edited By: Richard Phan